The Musconetcong in Hunterdon County has been proposed for a gas-fired power plant. The Musconetcong, a C-1 stream, is considered by many anglers to be the best trout stream in New Jersey. The scenic Musconetcong Gorge, just below the proposed power plant location, is the heart of the Musconetcong Gorge Important Bird Area (IBA), which has breeding Louisiana Waterthrush, Worn-eating Warblers, Hooded Warblers, and Cerulean Warblers. The gorge is one of the seven IBA’s targeted by the proposed PennEast pipeline. The gas-fired power plant proposes to use water from the stream to cool the power plant, which would raise the temperature of the stream and make it less suitable for trout. It is hard to imagine a less suitable site for a power plant.
The PennEast pipeline also threatens Baldpate Mountain which has the highest density of nesting Neotropical migrants in New Jersey. In the 2017 breeding season, Washington Crossing Audubon citizen scientists added Canada and Cerulean Warblers to the list of breeding Neotropical warblers at Baldpate, for a total of fifteen species. In 2018, courting Barred Owls were documented at Baldpate. Baldpate Mountain is a jewel that should be left undisturbed.
Hopewell Township has proposed building high density housing on the Bristol Meyer fields adjacent to the Stony Brook. These fields are a critical corridor for linking the Pole Farm IBA, Rosedale Park, Curlis Lake, Baldwin Lake, and the Watersheds Institute. None of the preserves are large enough to support an eagle pair but when linked by the Stony Brook corridor, together they support a nesting pair of Bald Eagles.
These examples show a disregard for biodiversity in planning our infrastructures. New Jersey is a mostly built out state. Our remaining wildlands and waters are essential for protecting New Jersey’s unsustainably diminishing biodiversity. Yet developers, industrialists, and politicians continue to act as if there is no biodiversity crisis and one species can take all lands and waters for its short-term gain with no consequences. Meanwhile we continue to lose flora and fauna at an unsustainable rate.
Birds are indicators of a healthy biodiversity. If bird populations are declining, so are the populations of the native plants and insects upon which they depend. The State of North American Birds 2016 report states that thirty-seven percent of North American birds are at high risk of extinction and forty-nine percent are a moderate risk of extinction if no action is taken. Hannah Suthers has forty-one years of data from the Featherbed Lane banding station in the Sourlands that show central New Jersey is not exempt from this loss, as bird numbers have declined steadily at an unsustainable rate.
The loss of biodiversity is not limited to birds. The little brown bat population crashed in New Jersey last year. Emerald ash borer is decimating ash trees. Many reptile and amphibian species continue to decline from habitat loss, illegal collecting and automobile hits. Over abundant White-tail Deer continue to decimate the forest understory, driving many plant species to local extinction and destroying the habitat of creatures that need a healthy ground and shrub layer for survival.
To slow or reverse this loss, our ecologically sensitive lands need to be off limits to housing, retail developments and industrial infrastructure, pipelines and power plants alike. The effect of development on biodiversity should be a major consideration in all planning and zoning. Until it is, New Jersey will continue to lose biodiversity at an unsustainable rate and we will all be the poorer for it.
~ Sharyn Magee